Hundreds of thousands of mourners have filled the streets of the Pakistani village of Garhi Khuda Bakhsh for the funeral of Benazir Bhutto. The former Pakistani prime minister was assassinated on Thursday after a campaign rally in Rawalpindi, the site of Pakistan’s military headquarters. Bhutto was shot twice just before a suicide bomber detonated an explosion that killed at least twenty or her supporters. Bhutto’s assassination came less than ten weeks after the Bush administration helped broker a deal for Bhutto to return to Pakistan after eight years in exile.
The international community has condemned the killing of Bhutto. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described Bhutto”s assassination as a “heinous crime.”
Ban Ki-moon: “I strongly call upon all Pakistanis to exercise maximum restraint for national unity and peace in this very difficult moment, and I wish all the best to the people and government of Pakistan in managing this very difficult situation.”
Bhutto’s assassination leaves Pakistan in a state of turmoil. In the words of the Wall Street Journal, the world’s most unstable nuclear-armed nation is now plunging deeper into crisis. Rioting has been reported across the country. Thousands of Bhutto’s supporters took to the streets last night and torched government institutions, banks and businesses. The army was given orders to shoot protesters on sight. At least ten people died overnight. Pakistan’s political future remains up in the air. General elections are scheduled for January 8, but it remains unclear if the election will be postponed or who will take Bhutto’s place as head of the PPP, the Pakistan Peoples Party. Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced yesterday that his party, the Muslim League, would boycott the elections.
It also remains unclear who carried out the assassination. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has blamed Islamic militants, but several associates of Bhutto have accused Musharraf himself of having a role. In an email sent to a confidant in the US two months ago, Benazir Bhutto wrote that Musharraf should be held “responsible” if she was assassinated, because his government did not do enough to provide for her security. Bhutto survived another assassination attempt in October shortly after she returned from exile.
Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Mahmud Ali Durrani, said three days of mourning will take place.
Mahmud Ali Durrani: “This is a time of mourning for Pakistan, and I think the government of Pakistan has already announced a three-day mourning. I spoke to the president of Pakistan this morning before he went into his meeting, and he also expressed his shock and condemnation, and he says we strongly condemn this terrorist act.”
Pakistanis living in the United States expressed shock and sadness on Thursday over the death of Bhutto.
Hamid Ali: “It is a very sad moment, you know. I don’t know what is going on. And no one is safe in Pakistan right now. She was asking from a long time that she has a fear that she will be killed, and still it happened. And it is very sad.”
In other campaign news, presidential candidates are spending record amounts of money on television advertising in Iowa ahead of next week’s caucus. The Democratic candidates have spent nearly $24 million on television ads, nearly two-and-a-half times the previous record. The Republicans have spent about $9.5 million on ads in Iowa. According to the New York Times, the Democrats may end up spending up to $150 on advertisements per caucus-goer in Iowa.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is refusing to stop construction of new Jewish settlements on occupied land in East Jerusalem. On Thursday, Olmert met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but Olmert balked at promising to halt expansion of the settlements. Israel is planning to build 740 new homes next year on occupied land near Jerusalem. Olmert, however, has ordered the Housing Ministry not to unilaterally issue any additional building permits on occupied Palestinian land. Palestinian leaders say Israel’s plans to expand the settlements are sabotaging negotiation efforts. On Thursday, Israeli warplanes and helicopter gunships carried out a series of attacks on Gaza killing eight Palestinians. Israel said all of the dead were gunmen linked to Hamas or Islamic Jihad.
In Iraq, the US death toll has topped 3,900. Two soldiers were killed on Wednesday in Mosul. Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Ted Stevens has revealed that the United States is now spending $15 billion a month on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Stevens made the remarks last week during a speech on the floor of the Senate. The Congressional Research Service has estimated the cost of the wars and worldwide counterterrorism activities has jumped by 60 percent since fiscal year 2006.
In Kenya, millions of voters took part Thursday in what has been described as the country’s closest presidential race. Incumbent President Mwai Kibaki is facing a challenge from former political prisoner Raila Odinga. Early results show opposition leader Raila Odinga in the lead.
And Democrats in the state of Kansas are accusing the Republican Party of trying to put together a list of voters to challenge on Election Day. In an email message sent to state Republicans, Kansas Republican Party Chair Kris Kobach admitted the party is engaged in vote caging, a direct form of voter suppression. In the email message, Kobach wrote, “To date, the Kansas GOP has identified and caged more voters in the last 11 months than the previous two years.” The Lawrence Journal World and News reports one form of vote caging is when a political party sends registered mail to an address of a registered voter. If the mail is returned as undeliverable, the voter will be challenged by the party as having a fraudulent voter registration. In the past, there have been reported incidents of caging lists targeting predominantly minority districts that tend to vote for Democrats.